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Sabah Karimi

The tours and activities industry is a competitive one, as, according to IBISWorld, there are more than 2,400 tour and activity businesses in operation today. The best tour guides in the world know how to develop creative tour itineraries and packages that appeal to their ideal customer.

To truly break out from the crowd, you'll need out-of-the box ideas for different tour packages and experiences, and explore different ways tour guides can connect with their groups. Here's a closer look at a few things the best tour guides in the industry have in common, and how you can start implementing them to gain notice.

Fully Engaging Guests in the Experience

Instead of just narrating the same script to the group or having guests wait until the end of the tour to ask questions, the best tour guides engage guests along the way. This could be something as simple as handing out binoculars to share a bird watching experience or by making a pit stop at a local historical site where the owner can talk directly with guests. Spontaneous and "off the script" moments like these prevents your tours from becoming a cookie-cutter experience.

For example, True Japan Tours offers immersive experiences to learn about Japanese culture and traditions with guides that provide insider knowledge and tips for making the best of the experience. Their Tokyo Fish Market Morning Walk includes a tour of the fish market to pick out the best tuna and the option of participating in a sushi-making session that same day. The company also offers a Sumo Wrestling Morning Practice Watch where travelers are taken to a sumo stable and must observe all rules for watching the practice in true sumo tradition. The tour guides are there to provide guidance and explain the history of sumo wrestling before the event.

Action Item

Think of ways to engage travelers beyond the basic tour itinerary so that they get an insider's experience from the tour guide or locals. Steer away from scripts, allowing guests more chances to ask questions, and for spontaneity to occur.

Teaching a New Skill

Many travelers are more interested in learning a new skill at a certain destination—such as deep-sea fishing, camping, or jungle survival skills—rather than going on a tour where they sit, walk, or ride through it passively. Tour guides that can combine their expertise, knowledge, and background to teach a particular skill can create an entirely new experience for guests. And, it will be one that your competitors won't be able to replicate easily.

For example, Paddle Asia offers a Thailand Introduction to Wilderness Survival experience that takes travelers to Khao Sok National Park, where they learn the basics of jungle survival with a series of bushcraft courses. Manuel Antonio Segway Beach Tours offers several different riding experiences around the Pacific Ocean and Jungle Island. Guests learn about local wildlife, how to pick out the best coconuts to eat along the tour, and insights about the Tico lifestyle.

Action Item

Consider adding activities that you can break down into tutorials or lessons to share with your guests. For example, if you offer hiking tours, offer a beginner's hiking basics course or survival course as an add-on or as part of the experience. If you offer eco-tours, teach guests how to handle the boat or operate an ATV. Package the tour with a lesson to add extra value to the tour.

Offering Built-In Interactive Experiences

Find unique ways for guests to participate and engage in the tour experience. Interactive activities, such as building something, participating in a group game, or watching a live demo during the tour are a few options. Fremen Tours offers multi-day tours through the Bolivian rainforest and the jungle tours include a night hike, time for making crafts and jewelry out of supplies sourced from the jungle, and a rainforest "fruit tasting" event. These are all interactive experiences that are unique to the jungle and rainforest, allowing guests a chance to enjoy a truly unique experience.

Whole Journeys is an experiential travel company developed by Whole Foods Market. The company creates travel packages to locations where certain foods are sourced so travelers can learn about the local culture and food, participate in face-to-face interactions with local producers and artisans, and even learn some new cooking skills or tips along the way. These are highly-interactive and, again, immersive experiences that make them incredibly appealing to the avid traveler.

Action Item

Create tours and itineraries around a specific activity unique to the area or site you're visiting. Make sure to highlight these interactive experiences as the main focus of the tour and use that across all marketing materials.

Providing Multi-View Experiences

Consider expanding your tour offerings to give guests a chance to enjoy a traditional experience, such as a zip-line tour, guided hike, or other outdoor adventure tours from a fresh perspective. For example, Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours not only delivers a breathtaking canopy tour experience through the rainforest, but gives guests a chance to see the rainforest from several different angles by flying and landing over six different platforms over the course of the tour.

The goal of having this type of tour circuit is to give guests a chance to see the rainforest from multiple perspectives—not just a traditional canopy tour experience that takes you from point A to point B. Guests enjoy an interpretative talk on each platform and experts control the speed and flight from each platform to ensure an optimal experience.

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Create tour experiences with a unique take on the standard tour. For example, paddle boarding experiences can be coupled with yoga paddle boarding for athletes. Kayaking tours might be coupled with a nature hike of the destination you are kayaking around so that guests can enjoy the experience on both land and water.

As a tour and activities operator, you want every experience with your tour company to be a positive and memorable one. Being creative with your itineraries and adding unique experiences to your lineup each season can make that possible. Consider these different ways to enhance your guest experience and attract more business each season.